JUDY Murray has urged parents to allow their children to play sport from as early as two to help rear a new generation of talent in Scotland.
The leading tennis coach said youngsters should be encouraged to develop skills and a love of sport from the earliest possible age
Speaking at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, said she providing opportunity was far more important that rearing talent in small children, who she said were “waiting for parents to introduce them to trying lots of different things.”
Ms Murray, who said she had to learn as she went along when she was trying to nurture the tennis careers of her two sons, Andy and Jamie, saying they had both been “very fortunate” to have brought up in “a sporting family.”
She said they learned crucial skills by playing “every game under the sun” - including makeshift games of tennis in their living room, using first a balloon over their sofa, then tying a rope to two chairs over their driveway.
She said all three of them were conscious of their responsibility to act as “role models” over the importance of physical activity for children.
Showing a picture of her sons wearing Wimbledon t-shirts at the age of just two and three, she said: “For me, at that age, they don’t have talent.
“They are waiting for parents to introduce them to trying lots of different things and creating the opportunity for them to try sport or other activities.
“Then it is to spend the time with them, helping to develop either a love for what they are doing or the skill to take it forward.
“My kids were very fortunate that they had parents and grandparents who would play every sport under the sun with them, whenever they wanted to, because we are a very sporting family.
“When they were young they developed very good hand-eye and and foot-eye coordination skills, so that it wouldn’t have mattered what sport they wanted to try as they got older, they would have been able to do it fairly competently.
“Their first ‘court’ playing tennis was over our sofa in the front room. It graduated to swingball in the back yard, and then two chairs with a piece of rope in the driveway with sponge-balls.
“We did, however, live very close to tennis courts. When you’re talking about nurturing sporting talent the proximity of a suitable facility is actually very important.
We all still try to encourage children to become physically active and play sport. The importance of keeping kids physically active is very much a part of what the boys can do as role models.
“Talent without opportunity doesn’t come to anything. You need talent, you need opportunity, then you need the right environment. You never really know where you’re going to get.”
Ms Murray she said the provision of proper facilities was “very important” to properly nurture sporting talent and said progress in Scotland had been “very poor” since Andy and Jamie made their breakthroughs, with just two indoor courts opened in the space of seven years.
The 55-year-old, who won 64 junior and senior titles during her own tennis career, said her sons’ careers might not have got off the ground had she not decided to train as a coach herself while he was a student, “for pocket money.”
She was a volunteer coach at Dunblane Tennis Club after her children were born and by the time Andy was only five he was pleading to play in his first tournament.
She banded together with other coaches to form a national circuit for under-10s and eventually became the national tennis coach for Scotland, which she admits she “did not have any business being” due to her lack of qualifications.
Ms Murray added: “Scotland is not a tennis nation. We have terrible weather, hardly any indoor facilities still, and it is very much a minority sport, with no track record of success at all.
“One of the issues in Scotland for me as I got more and more into tennis coaching was that there were very few coaches in Scotland, and in fact there still are.
“When Jamie and Andy were around 12 they had
the opportunity to go to Miami to play in the Orange Bowl, an unofficial 12-and-under world championships. Jamie made the final one year and Andy won it the following year.
“What for me had been a huge adventure suddenly became quite serious. Suddenly my kids were along the best in the world for their age and I realised that I didn’t know anything.
“I had to travel, I picked everybody’s brain, I videoed people, I had notebooks full of notes from speaking to people. I had to learn about what we did next and what the next two years would look like.
“For me, it was very much about learning as I went along.”